On June 23 I wrote a brief posting about Mary Bliss Parsons and promised you, the reader, that there would be more information to follow. Today I am keeping that promise.
Like most families, mine can claim a few scoundrels in our history, but few can claim to be related to a witch. My 7th great grand aunt was Mary Bliss Parsons, acquitted twice of being a witch in early New England. My direct ancestor was Lawrence Bliss, brother of Mary Bliss. Here is the story.
Mary Bliss, daughter of Thomas and Margret Bliss, was born about 1625 (some references say 1628) in England. Her family moved to the New World while she was very young and, after several moves, settled in Springfield, Massachusetts. Thomas Bliss died, but Margret and her children prospered.
In 1654, a few years after Mary’s marriage to Cornet Joseph Parsons, the couple moved to the newly settled town of Northampton, Massachusetts. “Cornet” is a title, rather than a name, and Joseph earned the title as Color Bearer in the Hampshire Troop of Horses. He was also a merchant and fur trader, eventually becoming the wealthiest man in the area.
A website developed by the University of Massachusetts describes the events leading up to the witchcraft trials of Mary Bliss Parsons. It states:
…soon after the Parsonses moved to Northampton, rumors of witchcraft began to circulate, implying that the family’s success came at the expense of other families, and was the result of Mary’s dealings with the devil. To head off the allegations, Joseph Parsons initiated a slander case in 1656, which he won. But eighteen years later, Mary was officially accused of and tried for witchcraft in 1674. She was eventually acquitted, but it seemed that the residents of Northampton, despite any court decrees, were convinced that Mary was a witch.
The charges of witchcraft against Mary are confusing because there was apparently another woman named Mary Lewis Parsons who was also charged with witchcraft. The two cases are unrelated, but it is easy to “merge” the two cases into a single account, which would be inaccurate.
Was Mary Bliss Parsons really a witch? Evidence indicates that the first charge was the result of jealousy and gossip spread by another woman named Sarah Bridgman. The UMass website goes on to say:
Joseph Parsons won the slander trial, but the feuding did not stop. Years later, Mary was again charged with witchcraft after the daughter of the Bridgman’s died unexpectedly. This time Mary was charged officially and tried as a witch, but was acquitted.
Mary and Joseph Parsons had 11 children. Joseph died in 1683 in Springfield, Massachusetts. Mary lived until 1715, dying at the age of 87, also in Springfield.
You can get more information at http://ccbit.cs.umass.edu/parsons/hnmockup/home.html.